The cultural relevance of Mr Rogers may be lost on British audiences, but without that rose-tinted lens of nostalgia it’s only clearer that Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a truly special film.
Where Heller’s 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me? took the little known figure and elevated their life to the extraordinary, Beautiful Day works in reverse to humanise a mythical figure, with Tom Hanks perfectly cast as the man, the myth, the legend of beloved American children’s TV host Mr Rogers.
The film works as an antidote to cynicism, guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts, and proves so by centring Matthew Rhys’ world-weary investigative journalist Lloyd, who sees his assignment to profile Mr Rogers in a fluff piece as an insult. Such a feel-good film is sure to bring sceptics out of the woodwork, just as Lloyd himself is sceptical of Mr Rogers’ selfless brand, built around kindness – and the mastery of this film is in how it gently leads the audience to the calm at its centre.
As scepticism turns to grudging respect and eventually to true and meaningful friendship, the lessons learnt by Lloyd are ever so gently and unobtrusively taught to us too. It feels like a therapy session for every member of the audience, treating adults with the same kindness and care that Rogers’ programming advocates for children. It’s startling to see the disparity laid out so clearly – why don’t we treat each other with more kindness? Why don’t we treat ourselves more gently?
Hanks delivers a masterclass in nuance, never slipping into an impression and never losing credibility as a person so unfailingly understanding it’s almost frustrating. The true moments of cinematic gold come through as he faces his own moments of hardship and frustration, showing the human behind the superhumanly gracious public figure.
There are two moments that contrast beautifully – one of perfect, contemplative silence and one of song as commuters on the train recognise Mr Rogers and sing his theme song – both with Hanks tapping into an incredible well of emotion. Heller’s delicacy and composure as a filmmaker has cemented her as a unique voice in cinema, and Hanks is the perfect match for her understated style.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood arrives in UK cinemas 31 January 2020.